Congress funds Defense, kills Terrorism Information Awareness

Congress on Thursday completed the fiscal 2004 Defense Department appropriations bill that permanently kills a far-reaching technology research program that set off a furor over rights to citizens' personal information.

"Total Information Awareness [TIA] is no more," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a key player in blocking the program. "The lights are out."

Wyden said in an interview that the discovery of millions of dollars for a terrorist-strike gambling Web site as another aspect of TIA gave him additional incentive to keep pressing to eliminate the program.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will continue its mission of developing visionary defense technologies. The appropriations bill eliminates the Information Awareness Office under which TIA was being developed, but transfers certain technologies deemed non-controversial to other places within DARPA. These include technologies related to biowarfare, wargaming and speech recognition.

The provision also "does not restrict the national foreign intelligence program from using processing, analysis and collaboration tools for counterterrorism foreign intelligence purposes." Wyden said the foreign intelligence gathering would mean, "We're not going to have Americans who are law-abiding spied on on American soil."

The Defense appropriations bill, passed 95-0 by the Senate on Thursday, provides $368 billion overall to the department. The House passed the measure on Wednesday.

Experts at a Thursday conference of the Center for Strategic and International Studies debated the need to have technologies like TIA to defeat terrorists.

William Parrish, Homeland Security acting assistant secretary for information analysis, said he would continue to stress improving intelligence before making a higher priority of sharing information with states and localities, despite those governments' daily calls for more information.

Stewart Baker, a partner at Steptoe and Johnson, noted that the only person to lose their job as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks-one of the "biggest screwups ever" in the United States-was TIA director John Poindexter.

He said TIA-like technologies will be needed but Congress and the public are overreacting to fears about civil liberties. "The Democrats provide the noise, and the Republicans provide the votes" to kill these programs, he said. Baker acknowledged, however, that civil liberties would be given up as technologies are put to use.

John MacGaffin, president of MacGaffin and associations, said the headlong rush to acquire or develop all but the most essential security technologies should be given a "time out" until it is clear what is needed. But he advocated the development of technology such as the TIA project that would allow law enforcement to sort through large amounts of data to find terrorist activity.

The best way to protect against terrorist attack, MacGaffin said, is counterintuitive. The government must add more "hay" to the information haystack in order to find the terrorist needle, he said.